An interview with Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii

One of the most well-known game developers in the world, Yuji Horii created Dragon Quest all the way back in 1986, and has been in charge of the series ever since. With each new entry and rerelease selling millions of copies, it’s one of the most popular game franchises in the world, even if DQ’s international success is a fraction of its popularity in its native Japan. We got a rare chance to sit down with Horii at the Nintendo offices on the eve of the long-awaited US release of Dragon Quest VI. He, along with Yuu Miyake (Dragon Quest series executive producer) and Noriyoshi Fujimoto (Dragon Quest VI producer), answered our questions about the renowned series.

Above: Mr. Horii is the one on the left

GamesRadar: How does it feel now that the Dragon Quest series is complete in the US?

Yuji Horii: It took 25 years to complete, so I’m very happy that all the titles are now in the US market.

GR: The story in Dragon Quest VI is pretty complex, with different, huge worlds to navigate. Why did you decide to tell the story in such a way?

YH: There are some games that have a second map you open up later in the game, but we thought, “What about having multiple world maps from the beginning?” Wanting the player to be constantly switching between the dream world and the real world was our motivation for the complexity.

GR: Were you ever worried that giving the players such an open story in two different worlds was too vague?

YH: Yes, we were aware of that and concerned with players getting lost in the game, especially after taking feedback from players of the original version who got lost [ed. note: Dragon Quest VI first came out in Japan in 1996]. When we created the remake for DS we made sure to add more hints to balance that.

GR: Dragon Quest VI has elements like a flying bed, a dream world, and other stranger concepts. Were you ever concerned they were too odd for the series?

YH: We didn’t think it would be too strange when creating it. There’ve been lots of flying things in the series, so we thought, “What can we fly next time? Let’s do a flying bed.”

GR: In the US localization for the most recent Dragon Quest games, I noticed there have been a lot of puns about Slimes and other jokey elements. Is that from a desire to add a more lighthearted feel to the series?

Yuu Miyake: The original Japanese versions have jokes that come mostly from Mr. Horii, but when localizing for overseas players, many of those jokes get lost in translation. Back in the Enix days the translation team wasn’t the best at maintaining that humor, but once Square-Enix’s localizersgot the series, they realized that DQ’s humor was a core element of the games. Starting with Dragon Quest VIII they did a really good job at getting that humor across in English.

GR: Yeah, I noticed the Puff-Puff jokes were sometimes missing. (You can learn more aboutPuff-Puff here.)

All: (Laughs)

Noriyoshi Fujimoto: One disappointment for me is that the Puff-Puff gags can negatively affect the game’s rating, so we’ve had to get a little more subtle with it when localizing.

GR: Any specific reasons DQVI hasn’t been out in the US until now.

YM: Timing. Games like these with so much text means a lot of localization time. Also, DQVI came out in Japan near the end of the Super Famicom’s lifecycle, so it wasn’t the best time to put it out on the SNES back then.

GR: You guys were really ahead of your time when you added monster-collecting to the series in Dragon Quest V. What brought about that addition? Were players more attracted to being friends with monsters thankilling them?

YH: Monsters joining your party came in with Dragon Quest V simply because having a different type of party member, particularly a monster, was a fun idea. And for the record, in the DQ series when you battle monsters you don’t really kill them, you just defeat them, so after a fight some of them look at you like they want something, giving the battles a warmer, friendly feeling.

Above: One of the most recent Itadaki Street games that wasn't localized

GR: So DQVI completes the main series in America, but there are a few DQ spin-offs that have neverleft Japan. Have you ever thought of bringing series like Itadaki Street to the US?

YM: Yes. (Laughs)

GR: Are there any recent Western games the DQ team has played and drawn inspiration from?

YH: Recently I played through Heavy Rain, but since I haven’t put out any new games after playing it, we’re not sure whether we’d use elements from that title or not.

GR: In the last few years DQ has become really focused on handheld releases. Do you worry you’re leaving consoles behind?

YH: No, the series got its start on consoles, so we aren’t thinking that way, especially since we’re working on Wii versions of Dragon Quest right now.

Above: This promo art is all we've seen of the tenth DQ since its announcement for Wii in 2008

GR: With a series as popular as Dragon Quest, is it difficult to deal with fan expectations?

YH: Yes, it is difficult to meet fan expectations, especially when people say, “Oh, the last one was the best one.” It creates more pressure each time for the next game to top the last one.

GR: Do you ever find it hard to introduce new features while keeping those fans satisfied?

YH: Yes, that’s a concern and Dragon Quest fans can be very conservative, so when implementing new features we do get some resistance from fans. But we always want to try new things, and we feel those features will be enjoyed by even the most conservative fans. The core of DQ is simplicity and fun, so we keep that in mind when adding new ideas.

For example, when we showed Dragon Quest VIII for the first time, many fans were resistant to the 3D graphics, but once they had the game in their hands, they knew it was still Dragon Quest. And when DQIX was introduced as a handheld game, people were like, “It’s on a handheld?!?” Of course once it came out, people accepted it and over four million people in Japan bought it.

Above: DQVIII's graphics were easily the best the series had ever had

GR: Does the conservative nature of Dragon Quest fans effect how the DQ team thinks of using motion controls in future games?

YH: It all goes back to ease of control. If it fits with the game, and is easy to play, we’re open to motion controls.

GR: Looking at DQ’s future, it’s traditionally such a solo experience, do you find it hard to match that with multiplayer and internet demands like you did in IX?

YM: Going back to the first Dragon Quest, we wanted as many people as possible to enjoy the game, so all the players would talk with each other about the series and spread the word, so communication between DQ players has always been very important to us. We’re not sure exactly how we’ll use features like those in future games, but we’re definitely thinking about how to utilize that communication.

Above: A small sampling of the Dragon Quest manga adaptations

GR: Mr. Horii, before DQ you worked in the manga (Japanese comics) industry. I was curious what series you’re currently reading.

YH: Right now Gantz and Bakuman.

GR: Do you ever think of doing direct sequels like Final Fantasy has done with X-2 and the just announced XIII-2?

YH: Currently no, but if there’s a strong demand, perhaps.

GR: Personally, I’m a big fan of the Rocket Slime games, any current plans for that series?

NF: (Laughs) I worked closely on that series… you ask good questions. We like you. (Laughs) It’s possible, you never know.

Above: Trust me, this underrated title is worth the search

GR: When you first saw the 3DS, what aspects of it interested you with regards to the DQ series?

YH: Obviously we can’t be that detailed right now, but the 3DS's networking features, bigger screen, and smaller pixel size create a lot of possibilities.

GR: Why do you think it is that the Slime has become the mascot for the series instead of any of the human characters?

YH: Maybe the Slime is such a popular character because it’s the first thing you fight and is easy to beat while still being cute. Human characters are who you identify with, so it’s harder to see them as your favorite. And of course the human characters change between games, while the Slime is always there.

GR: Inside the Square-Enix family, is there a friendly rivalry between the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy teams?

YM: (Laughs) No, there’s no rivalry.

Above:A very late PSOne release, DQVII was also the last game under the Dragon Warrior name

GR: Lastly, when looking at what’s been remade so far, Dragon Quest VII would be the next logical release. What do you think of that?

YM: Another good question. (Laughs) When the time comes…

Feb 17, 2011

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It took 15 years, was it worth the wait?

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An investigation of the RPG phenomenon, straight from Tokyo

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Confused about the 24 year-old franchise? You'll find the answers within

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.